“The Juvenile Justice Code is our starting point because it is the operative statutory scheme for resolving juvenile delinquency matters”
State ex rel. J.S.,
202 N.J. 465, 474-75 (2010)
Additional Points of Contrast and Comparison with the Adult Criminal Justice System
In addition to some of the distinctions already mentioned, the Juvenile Justice Code and multiple court cases interpreting the law applicable to juvenile delinquency proceedings provide special advantages to children over and above adults. For example, no adjudication of delinquency “shall operate to impose any of the civil disabilities ordinarily imposed by virtue of a criminal conviction, nor shall a juvenile be deemed a criminal by reason of such disposition.” N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-48. And as a general matter, juveniles’ legal records “pertaining to juveniles charged as a delinquent . . . shall be strictly safeguarded from public inspection,” N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-60, and a special record sealing provision applies to juveniles, N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-62.
The juvenile justice process also creates a special role for consideration of academic, familial, psychological, social, and other factors bearing on a child’s behavior: For example, the judge considering a juvenile delinquency case may “refer the juvenile to an appropriate individual, agency or institution for examination” or “consult with such individuals and agencies as may be appropriate to the juvenile’s situation, including . . . school personnel, clergy, law enforcement authorities, family members and other interested and knowledgeable parties.” N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-42. Families in crisis may receive aid from county-sponsored Family Crisis Intervention Units. See, e.g., N.J.S.A 2A:4A-76.
In addition, the laws of New Jersey permit appointment of county-based Juvenile Conference Committees, see N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-75, which can serve as a voluntary alternative to juvenile delinquency proceedings and are “concerned primarily with providing balanced attention to the protection of the community, the imposition of accountability for offenses committed, fostering interaction and dialogue between the offender, victim and community, and the development of competencies to enable the juvenile offender to become a responsible and productive member of the community,” R. 5:25-1. A similar alternative is use of a Court Intake Services Conference, which may result in resolutions of juvenile charges including “counseling, restitution, referral to appropriate community agencies, or any other community work programs.” N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-74(d). Yet another example is use of court-appointed Referees, see R. 5:25-2, who can make recommendations to the court presiding over a juvenile delinquency case, and who often recommend resolving cases leniently (e.g., with “things like curfews, counseling, or community service,” see https://www.njcourts.gov/selfhelp/juvenile_delinquency.html).
All of these options reflect the fact that “juvenile court proceedings . . . are conducted informally with rehabilitative supervision rather than retributive punishment in mind.” See In re State in the Interest of Steenback, 34 N.J. 89, 103 (1961). The general advantage for juveniles is reflected even in the applicable language: For instance, it is not proper to refer to juveniles as having been “arrested” or “criminal.” See, e.g., N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-31(c); N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-48.
Another point of contrast with the adult system is that juveniles are not entitled to trial by jury: Delinquency hearings are “civil proceeding[s], tried without a jury” as bench trials—trials before single family court judges. State v. Tuddles, 38 N.J. 565, 571-72 (1962). Although denying children the right to a jury trial arguably puts them at a disadvantage relative to adults—the Supreme Court of New Jersey found that denying juveniles jury trials actually serves their interests, see In re State in Interest of J. W., 57 N.J. 144, 146 (1970)—the other aspects of the juvenile justice system generally make it vastly preferable. For that reason, avoiding waiver to adult court is one of the single most important goals of an attorney defending a child accused of certain kinds of delinquency. The concept of waiver to adult court is discussed on its own tab.
Despite these points of contrast, a juvenile delinquency proceeding is fundamentally similar to an adult criminal proceeding and so many of the same rules apply to both: Although the Juvenile Justice Code provides the operative statutory scheme for resolving juvenile delinquency matters, the Criminal Code, N.J.S.A. 2C:1-1 et seq., provides the definitions of charges subject to resolution; and, stated simply, “[a]ll rights guaranteed to criminal defendants by the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this State, except the right to indictment, the right to trial by jury and the right to bail” are guaranteed to juveniles charged with delinquency. N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-40; see also generally In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967). Notably, some legal rights are peculiar to New Jersey, such as the “common law privilege against self-incrimination,” and often provide “greater protection” than corresponding federal legal rights, such as under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. See State v. A.G.D., 178 N.J. 56, 68 (2003).
A full discussion of juveniles’ constitutional rights would require its own tome, but one of the most significant among them—the right to remain silent—is addressed on the following tab.
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